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Asylum Seekers: Rwanda

Volume 837: debated on Thursday 21 March 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what are the reasons for their new policy of paying failed asylum seekers to travel to Rwanda; how this policy will deliver (1) justice, and (2) deterrence; and how they expect it will work alongside their policy of seeking to forcibly transport illegal migrants to that country.

My Lords, voluntary relocations to Rwanda support efforts to remove individuals with no right to be here. This will be offered to failed asylum seekers, those without leave to remain and those who have put in a claim to the UK’s asylum system that was unsuccessful. Once the Bill and the treaty are in place, we will look to enforce the removal of individuals entering illegally, so that their asylum claims can be processed in Rwanda.

As always, I am grateful to the Minister, particularly this morning. Can he help me a little with the following logic? As I understand the Government’s own case, in pursuit of deterrence some genuine refugees who have come by irregular routes will be forcibly transported to Rwanda, while failed asylum seekers, including some who have made fraudulent claims, will be given the £3,000 golden goodbye.

My Lords, yes. The fact is that people who have paid £5,000 to £10,000 to a murderous criminal gang to get to the UK—let us not forget that they have been sold a lie and will not be able to stay here—are unlikely to be attracted by an offer of £3,000. I do not believe that it will have any effect on the deterrence principle.

Will my noble friend the Minister help the House by telling us whether the numbers of migrants who are paid a fee to go to Rwanda will count towards the numbers that Rwanda has agreed to take as compulsory relocations under the Bill’s provisions?

As the scheme has only just begun, I do not know what the numbers are likely to look like in the end. However, as this is governed by a separate agreement, I imagine that the answer is no.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House the size of the cohort that he described and to whom the offer will be made? What will the status be of those people when they arrive in Rwanda, given the present position of the Bill, the treaty and everything else? I draw attention to my interest in the register that I am supported by the RAMP.

My Lords, as I said, this will be offered to individuals with no right to remain. They are visa overstayers and failed asylum seekers, who are offered this option as part of our regular dialogue. It is very hard to say exactly how many people are likely to be offered this, so I cannot answer that question in its entirety. However, this builds on our already widely used voluntary returns scheme, which saw more than 19,000 people accept support to return to their country of origin last year. We have agreed with the Government of Rwanda that individuals who are relocated voluntarily will have the same package of support for up to five years as those who are being discussed under the Bill.

My Lords, has my noble friend the Minister seen reports this morning in the Times, the Telegraph and other newspapers suggesting that this House has delayed the passage of the Rwanda Bill unnecessarily, resulting in people being exposed to the dangers of the channel? Will he take this opportunity to point out that this House was well prepared to pass the legislation back to the House of Commons for consideration before Easter, that it is no fault of this House that the legislation has been delayed and that this House has just been doing its job by asking the Commons to think again and is not responsible for delaying the legislation?

I am happy to reassure my noble friend that I have seen those reports and that I passed that very message back before those newspapers published their reports.

My Lords, if Rwanda is a safe country, can we have an explanation of why we are taking Rwandan refugees here in Britain?

My Lords, I have discussed that many times from the Dispatch Box. The fact is that we take refugees from many countries, some of which are safe.

My Lords, if I understood the Minister earlier, did he mean to tell the House that this arrangement with Rwanda—for people to go there with £3,000—is not covered by the UK-Rwanda asylum partnership agreement, and that there is another agreement of some description with Rwanda, the details of which have not been shared with Parliament? When will Parliament see that agreement?

My Lords, as I said earlier, this is separate from the Bill and the treaty. I cannot answer the question, as I do not know when Parliament will see the agreement.

My Lords, in the proceedings of the Illegal Migration Bill—now the Act—that was passed last July, the Minister told us that the Act was necessary as a disincentive for people who would cross the channel. The Government have not brought the Act into force yet, eight months after it was passed by Parliament. Can the Minister confirm that those people who have arrived by boat since the passage of the Act until today have been able to claim asylum? How many have been doing so and what are the financial consequences?

My Lords, I am afraid that I do not have the numbers to hand, because the Question that I am answering is of a very different nature. I will have to come back to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I am surprised to hear that there is no budget for this policy, but I am sure that the Minister agrees with the two Ministers who answered Questions this morning about the importance of people being in work. Does he agree with me that many people who come to this country would make a valuable contribution if only they were allowed to work?

I agree in certain circumstances, but we are talking about failed asylum seekers. These people will be offered the opportunity to work, but in Rwanda.

My Lords, is it the Government’s position that there will be a finite number of places and that some of the people who go there voluntarily will take some of those places but that will not have any effect on the deterrence of the Government’s policy?

My Lords, as I have also said many times from the Dispatch Box, this scheme and the Rwanda scheme are uncapped, so there is no finite number of places.

My Lords, will the Minister consider his words a little more carefully before he describes people as “failed asylum seekers”, when we have actually refused to consider their asylum requests?

No, I am afraid that I will not. They are failed asylum seekers, visa overstayers and people who are outside of the current system.

My Lords, further to the excellent question from the Minister’s noble friend Lord Forsyth about the attitude of this House towards the Rwanda Bill, will he care to put his ministerial colleague Mr Tomlinson right on remarks that he made on the “Peston” programme last night? He said that the Government lost the seven votes in this House yesterday because of all the votes of the Labour Peers who were whipped into the Lobby by Sir Keir Starmer. Can he point out what the arithmetic is in the relationship between Conservative Peers and Labour Peers?

The noble Lord makes a good point. I am afraid that I did not see Minister Tomlinson because—noble Lords may be surprised to know—I was in the bar after yesterday’s efforts. However, I have some other statistics: Labour has voted against tougher measures on illegal migration 118 times and voted to block, delay or weaken our plan to stop the boats 105 times.